September 26, 2008
In previous posts, I introduced the Do’s and Don’ts of Multicultural Communication. I offered tips, ideas and suggestions for improving your ability to communicate across cultural differences, and to reduce the possibility of offending others. My previous tips focused on the Don’ts – the behaviors you want to avoid at all costs. In my next few posts, I will describe 7 things you want to Do to improve multicultural communication. Here are the first 2:
1. DO demonstrate empathy in all of your interactions. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand another person’s feelings, situation, ideas, values and desires. There are many ways to demonstrate empathy, but the best way is to listen first (our natural tendency is to speak first so you may have to work at this), to try and understand where your colleagues and co-workers are coming from (really try to understand their point of view), and to demonstrate your understanding on a consistent basis. You can effectively demonstrate your understanding by using active listening. Do this by paraphrasing what you hear your communication partner say to confirm you have received the message in the way it is intended.
2. DO be accepting of cultural differences. Always remember that acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean agreement. You can be totally accepting of a person while still disagreeing with their ideas or certain beliefs they hold. Acceptance refers to a willingness to support and validate your colleagues, to have positive regard for them, and to remain non-judgmental even in circumstances where you do not agree.
NEXT POST – October 1, 2008:
Culturally Competent Communication – Part 2
September 22, 2008
Greetings, in my last two posts, I introduced the Do’s and Don’ts of Multicultural Communication and described 5 things you should never do if you want to communicate effectively with people who are culturally different. Here are the last 2 DON’TS:
1. DON’T ask inappropriate questions or engage in inappropriate behaviors, especially of a personal nature. In a culturally diverse setting, it is best to stick to business at the beginning of a work relationship. This means you must take care not to ask improper questions or engage in inappropriate conversations. For example, don’t ask about another person’s grooming habits. Don’t ask others about their child rearing practices. Don’t ask if you can touch a co-worker’s hair (yes, I have heard questions like these on multiple occasions). These types of questions can create tension and make people feel uncomfortable. In addition, some people may find these types of discussions to be unsuitable for the workplace. Once you have established a strong working relationship or friendship with someone, you may be able to have discussions of this nature. But until that happens, it is best to avoid these types of personal conversations.
2. DON’T try to speak or act like a culturally different person if it is not YOU. Never try to behave the way you think someone else expects you to behave. Never act in an unnatural way because you think it is what another person wants from you. For example, don’t pretend you like certain foods, music or activities just to build a relationship with a culturally different individual. Always be yourself. This is the essence of genuineness, which is a key condition of effective cross-cultural communication.
NEXT POST – September 26, 2008:
Culturally Competent Communication – Part 1
September 16, 2008
In my last post, I introduced the Do’s and Don’ts of Multicultural Communication, and described 3 things you should never do if you want to enhance communication in diverse settings and avoid offending others. Here are 2 more DON’TS:
1. DON’T assume a culturally different person is typical of all of the members of his or her cultural group. A common by-product of stereotyping (making generalizations or assumptions about the members of a particular group) is the tendency to think that the behavior of one group member is typical of all group members and to only see in those group members what we expect to see. We often do this unconsciously and it has the potential to create many communication problems. Therefore, always strive to treat people as individuals and to get to know your colleagues on an individual basis.
2. DON’T engage in behaviors that single out a culturally different person, especially if that person is in the minority at your workplace. This may seem obvious, but we often do this without realizing it. For instance, I have observed many situations where people who are cultural minorities within the workplace are asked to serve on a team or committee because of their race, gender or age. While it may be a great honor to be asked to serve, and it is certainly beneficial to have a diverse set of perspectives on any team, always be aware of the difficult position you can place someone in if you single them out.
NEXT POST – September 22, 2008:
How to Avoid Offending Others: Part 3
September 11, 2008
When people from diverse cultural backgrounds interact within an organization, the chances of saying or doing something that can offend another person increases significantly. In fact, I never ceased to be amazed at some of the crazy things we say to one another in the workplace! Fortunately, there are several steps we can take to minimize this possibility. I refer to these steps as the Do’s and Don’ts of Multicultural Communication. Here are the first 3 DON’TS:
1. DON’T talk to anyone in a patronizing fashion. In other words, never “talk down” to another human being. One of the quickest ways to break down communication is to treat another person in a condescending manner. Therefore, you should consciously focus on treating everyone as an equal. Bear in mind that this is often easier said than done since we tend to categorize people and treat them based on the category they represent. For example, we often treat managers and their secretaries differently. Likewise, in educational settings, I have observed that administrators, teachers and students are treated differently depending on their status. This often happens unconsciously so pay close attention to how you interact with others.
2. DON’T make assumptions about people, especially those who are culturally different. Stereotyping (making generalizations about the members of a particular group) is very common, and poses a significant barrier to effective cross-cultural communication. For that reason, it is important to be aware of the assumptions you make as you interact with culturally different people, and to make a conscious effort to minimize those assumptions (see my previous post “Removing the Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 1” for additional tips).
3. DON’T assume a culturally different person is an expert about his or her cultural group. A common mistake that I have observed in diverse work settings is asking a culturally different person (especially if that person is a ‘minority’) to speak as a representative of his or her cultural group. This poses two problems. First, it puts the person ‘on-the-spot’, which may create a significant level of discomfort. Second, it inaccurately assumes that one individual can speak for an entire group of people. Always remember, no one is a spokesperson for his or her cultural group.
NEXT POST – September 16, 2008
How to Avoid Offending Others: Part 2
September 5, 2008
Greetings, in my two previous posts, I introduced two steps we can take to remove the barriers to effective multicultural communication: enhance your self-awareness and increase your empathy. Another action we can take to reduce stereotyping, a lack of understanding and judgmental attitudes is to suspend judgment:
Suspend Judgment. A final step that we can take to remove the multicultural communication barriers is to reduce the extent to which we evaluate and judge others. Now this is very difficult for most of us. That’s because we spend so much of our lives standing in judgment of others (e.g., managers evaluating job performance, teachers assessing student performance). The problem is the criteria we use to make those judgments. Most of us use our own values, styles and beliefs as the criteria for how we assess others (this is the essence of ethnocentrism). The more alike someone else is, the more positively we judge them. However, people from different cultures may be unlike us in terms of values, styles and beliefs. It is then that we must suspend our judgment and try to understand others as individuals. And we must attempt to gain this understanding from their cultural perspective, not from our own. The best way to do this is to be more accepting of others. Acceptance refers to a willingness to support and validate others even when you disagree with them. You can be totally accepting of a person while still disagreeing with their ideas or certain beliefs that they hold. You can demonstrate acceptance by actively listening to others, attempting to understand where they are coming from and trying to address whatever issues or concerns they raise. Always remember that communication is most effective when it supports and validates the other person.
NEXT POST – September 11, 2008
September 2, 2008
Greetings, in my last post, I introduced 3 steps we can take to remove the Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication (the barriers are stereotyping, a lack of understanding and judgmental attitudes). These steps include enhancing your self-awareness, increasing your empathy and suspending judgment. I discussed enhancing your self-awareness last time and describe increasing your empathy here:
Increase Your Empathy. Empathy can be defined as the ability to step into another person’s shoes, and experience the world from his or her perspective. It is a cognitive and psychological state where you truly understand where another person is ‘coming from’. Empathy is the single most important element of multicultural communication. Without it, there is no true connection between people, and there is no chance of removing communication barriers such as stereotyping and ethnocentrism. To increase your empathy, you must actively work at getting to know culturally different people. You can do this by participating in social activities with culturally diverse individuals, attending cultural events (e.g., art and music festivals), participating in programs specific to a cultural tradition like Black History Month, attending worship services at churches, synagogues and mosques, visiting ethnic restaurants, participating in diversity workshops, reading books by and about members of different cultural groups, and joining various cultural organizations. You can also share information about your cultural heritage with others. This will help culturally different individuals learn more about you and facilitate increased understanding.
NEXT POST – September 5, 2008:
Removing the Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 3